In the Interest of the University of Liberia

By: George Daweh Yuoh


The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia

August 24, 2004

Dr. Al-Hassan Conteh
The on-going controversy surrounding the appointment of Dr. Al-Hassan Conteh as the new President of the University of Liberia has all the trappings of what the greater Liberian society has to grapple with in years to come. People have gotten a little more conscious of their rights to resist and will do everything to utilize those rights. And they should! People have also seen how others have gotten away with forcibly imposing their way and will on the majority, and they too would want to test those waters.

However, and in order for such resistance to be meaningful and beneficial to the greater good, it must be done with an understanding of the issues and in the interest of the whole.

What is the basis for this commotion? First, I have to say that I am very disappointed by the actions of the University of Liberia Faculty Association (ULFA) to boycott classes, as the means of expressing their dissatisfaction over Dr. Conteh's appointment. And ULFA's point of contention, that the appointment must be made from within, is bereft of the most elementary standard for institutional restructuring, especially in times of crisis. ULFA should be the last group to cause a meaningless
disruption in the learning process of the students; and if even they had to, it should have been a matter of last resort, rather than their first option.

The issue therefore is, whether the appointment of Dr. Conteh was fair and in the best interest of the University of Liberia. Here, ULFA has failed miserably to make a case. The fact that they were aware of the Search Committee on UL Presidency, and the committee's terms of reference, pre-supposes that they knew that the selection would have gone either which way, objectively, based on the credentials of the best suitable candidate. To come now and refuse the outcome, only because the successful candidate is not a member of their ranks and file, is to question the integrity, qualifications, independence and judgment of the Search Committee (a very fine group of reputable Liberian professionals). Such a contention would have been acceptable had they had a case of biases and questionable actions in the selection process on the part of the Committee. But this is not the case. They are screaming only because Dr. Conteh is not "one of them".

For the benefit of the critics of the selection, let's ask a few essential questions. Is Dr. Conteh a less qualified candidate than Dr. Kollie academically? Which candidate has a better track record of successful management? Who stands in a better position to provide the University of Liberia with the much-needed national and international contacts necessary for solicitations on behalf of the UL at this critical time? I am sure these were the questions and many more that the Search Committee tried to provide answers to when they set their criteria and job requirements.

I am not in the position to pass judgment on the academic credentials and qualification of the two gentlemen, and I am the least qualified to do that. They both have doctorate degrees and I have no way of knowing their individual academic progress since obtaining those degrees. I would therefore assume that they both meet the academic requirements. Let's therefore look at the other possible criteria that may have been considered in judging the expected performances of both men within the context and confines of their involvement with the University of Liberia. This is not an official version of the Search Committee. Rather, it is a personal perspective based on my knowledge of the two gentlemen.

During my stay at the graduate program in Regional Planning at the University of Liberia, at which time Dr. James Kollie was its head, the learning condition at the school was woeful, to say the least. While I agree that there was a general lack of instructional supplies and facilities then at the University, there was a seeming lack of leadership efforts at Regional Planning to provide the most basic learning conditions
and capacity necessary for a graduate school. On the other hand, successive deans of the Louis Arthur Grimes Law School successfully negotiated with the US Departments of Justice and State, through the US Embassy in Monrovia to have the law school and its library refurbished, refurnished and supplied with text references. Additionally, instructors at the law school were among the best lawyers in the country. But at Regional Planning, we competed for leaking and holes-filled classrooms with undergraduate students at FQ. There were no course reference materials, and we had to
rely heavily on notes taking, like beginners at the undergraduate levels. The situation of the instructional staff was a case of the one eye man being king among the blinds. While this is not meant to cast aspersions on the abilities of Dr. Kollie, there was a lack of initiative to better the situation.

Dr. Conteh for his part served as vice-president for academic affairs at the University. While the policy of placing instructors in classrooms deserved better, it was not for a lack of trying. Teaching at University was not an attractive option for many professionals and so the UL had to make-do with a lot of part-timers, some of who had questionable credentials. And most of these instructors were allowed to get away with unprofessional practices, despite outcries from students. Instructors became law upon themselves and their actions were never called into question by the authorities at the UL. This adversely affected the output standard of the University. In addition, the general course contents at the University were in serious need of revision. Instructors were teaching based on course work and requirements designed as far back as the 1970s or beyond. While this was not all the fault of Dr. Conteh, due to the fact that he inherited the rotten system, I believe he could have done better to improve the situation.

But where Dr. Conteh has a clear-cut advantage and better record over Dr. Kollie is the former's propensity to create and provide the necessary contacts that the UL need at this crucial time of its reconstruction process. While Dr. Conteh may not be the best possible option, he has done far better in soliciting support for the University in recent times than any of the other candidates. He has continued to create international awareness about the plight and needs of the University, even though he is not receiving pay from the UL to do so. In addition, his recent work affiliation with other universities in the USA puts him miles ahead of Dr. Kollie in being able to establish contacts for international assistance for the UL. While Dr. Kollie may be a loyal servant, he lacks the required external relationship credentials needed for the presidency of the University of Liberia at this time. The appointment of Dr. Conteh, therefore, is in the best interest of the University of Liberia, given the options available to the Search Committee.

It is about time in Liberia that people are appointed to key leadership positions based on their qualifications, including academic and leadership experience and competence, as well as the individuals' ability to make a difference at the institution. The president of the UL must be able to add value to the institutional rebuilding efforts at the University, and must demonstrate the ability to keep the UL afloat during these most critical
times. The University needs a president who will be pro-active and not someone who is going to fold his hands and depend wholly and solely on central government for the survival of the institution. In short, the president of the University of Liberia must be an asset to the University.

Therefore, ULFA's contention that the president of the University be appointed on the basis of sentiments, rather than professional capability, is unacceptable and a disservice to the UL family, especially the students of Liberia. ULFA members should hold their heads in shame for raising such a disgraceful contention. There is a difference between managerial competence and blind loyalty. The UL deserves the finest and most motivated of our academic managers and administrators available for selection. The University of Liberia is under obligation to set standards for the greater
Liberian society to emulate. It is therefore insalubrious for the instructors to send out the wrong signals that nepotism is a better option to professional competence. We acknowledge with pride the responsible deportment of the students so far, and would not hesitate to refer ULFA to the University's student community for guidance. "LUX IN TENEBRIS" is light in darkness, and ULFA needs to shine a far better and brighter light than the hideous image it is emitting. ULFA protest is irresponsible and is not in the interest of the University of Liberia.

The repulsive act of rebelling and then agreeing to negotiate for personal gains must never find a place in the walls of the University. The work of the Search Committee is commendable and must be considered irrevocable. The Committee chose substance over prêt-à-porter. The students too have exhibited an unprecedented level of maturity, and have sent a clear message to the disgruntle instructors that they will not be used as pawns in such an ineffectual adventure. In furthering their selfish agendas, political gangsters have over the years used the students of the UL as acceptable casualties. A line has been drawn, and the students should insist that that line remains bold and unbreakable. The interest of the University of Liberia must supersede all other personal benefits.

About The Author: The author is the President of the Association of University of Liberia Graduates and former Students in the Americas, AULGSA-Minnesota. However, the views expressed above are those of the author's alone, and do not represent nor reflect those of the association. He can be reached at: